Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I just returned this week from the Convocation of Catholic Leaders sponsored by the Catholic bishops in the United States – the first ever of its kind in the history of the Catholic Church in our country. I was joined by nine others from our Diocese of Sioux City. We joined more than 150 bishops and cardinals, the pope’s representative to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and more than 3,500 people from all over the country to spend time in prayer and learning.
We wanted to know how we, as Catholic leaders, could become missionary disciples – followers of Jesus, sent forth to tell others about him. This, of course, is the task of all of us who are privileged to be called Christians. The convocation was centered on Pope Francis’ letter to the church called The Joy of the Gospel.
It was a great experience for me and all of us from Northwest Iowa. The only negative was the humidity. Why would our bishops plan something in July in Orlando, Fla.?
As you know, several years ago I made the transition as your Bishop from the relatively low humidity in Denver to that of Iowa. That took some adjustment. The change from Iowa to Florida even for these few days was significant.
Then, I realized one reason the bishops might have scheduled this convocation in July in Florida was that the rates were less expensive and they wanted to save all of us some money. I did not get to see much of Orlando, but maybe sometime in the winter months, I might visit again.
As you know, a disciple is one who follows and learns from another. We, like so many before us, are called to be disciples of Jesus. As disciples, our first primary task is to get to know the one we follow better and better. We need to know Jesus, really know him, not just know about him, if we are going to be effective disciples who are sent to tell others about him.
Our Scripture readings this past Sunday gave us a chance to know Jesus better. Zechariah, in the first reading, long before Jesus lived, talked about a king who would come to us, a king who is humble and meek and who would bring peace, not war and violence to the world. Jesus Christ is that king, and the world so caught up in war, violence and selfishness desperately needs to experience this kind of meek and humble King of Peace. We as his followers and disciples must bring him and his message to others. As Christians, we must be instruments of peace, first in our own families, then in the larger communities of which we are a part.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans (8:9, 11-13) which we also heard on Sunday, tells us to live and dwell in the spirit, not the flesh. St. Paul is not telling us that our bodies are bad, we know that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. By “flesh” St. Paul means all those things in our lives that have not been touched by Christ.
People who live in the flesh place great value on things like attractiveness, dominance, control, wealth and fame. They love themselves more than anything or anyone. St. Paul urges us to be people alive in the Spirit, people who use the gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in confirmation.
The Spirit produces in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control. If we could only live one or two of these virtues this week, imagine how blessed the people around us would be. They could actually come to know and see Jesus acting in us and touching them with love. We would truly be missionary disciples.
Brothers and sisters, strive to be missionary disciples this week. Live in the Spirit. Walk with the Lord. Gain strength through prayer and reception of the sacraments on a regular basis.
As we continue to implement Ministry 2025, our pastoral plan for the Diocese of Sioux City, our task to be missionary disciples becomes more important than ever. As we regroup and reorganize our parishes, we must not let anyone feel neglected or forgotten. The young, the elderly, the newly married all must feel welcomed and valued in our parish communities. This is where our work as missionary disciples takes place. The church, as one body, is called to live in faith, unity and peace. It is in our parishes that this takes place most effectively.
I ask you to continue to pray for and support your pastor and priests and parish leadership. These are important times for the church in our diocese. May God bless all our efforts to become missionary disciples ready and willing to share the Gospel of joy.
I hope you are enjoying these hot, summer days. Please know of my continued prayers for all of you. I count on your prayers for me.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City